Halftime in Copenhagen: what to expect in week two

Protesters in Christiansborg Square yesterday. Photo: Jeff McMahon

Protesters in Christiansborg Square yesterday. Photo: Jeff McMahon

COPENHAGEN–Week one of the UN Climate Change Conference had its dramas–leaked drafts, big stands by tiny nations, tiffs between the U.S. and China. But week one was mere prelude, in which negotiators tried to settle as many issues as possible to clear the table for the heavyweights in week two. And of course, the issues they didn’t settle are the most difficult.

Progress Made: At the close of week one, negotiators claimed progress on two provisions they hope to include in the final accord: the transfer of alternative-energy technologies to developing countries and a mechanism for discouraging deforestation, encouraging reforestation, to support forests as carbon sponges.

Hazards Ahead: But in the next five days, delegates have to agree on levels of greenhouse-gas cuts for each nation and develop a financing scheme to help developing countries transition to cleaner energy.

Both issues are fraught with tension. Developing nations including China, India, and Brazil suspect the U.S. and EU of trying to stunt their growth: having polluted freely, causing most of the world’s existing greenhouse-gas pollution, the developed world wants to shut down the party just as the developing world arrives.

This claim underlies the developing nations’ demands for financing from the West.

China recently passed the U.S. as the world’s largest polluter. Chinese officials have vowed to cut greenhouse gas emissions dramatically as long as the West pays the bill.

The U.S. has said none of its public money will go to China, which stands to profit from a carbon market because of its growing economy. The U.S. has said it will offer money to the nations in greatest need, but only in combination with international monitoring to ensure the money is well spent.

Yesterday, Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh rejected international monitoring as meddling in India’s domestic affairs.

What to watch for in the coming week:

Dollars: The U.S. has yet to attach a dollar figure to its promised share of a fast-start emergency fund to help developing nations transition to cleaner energy.

U.S. reticence has been wise. No sooner had the European Union offered $7.2 billion Euros ($10.6 billion) over the fund’s first three years than Lumumba Stanislaus Di-Aping of Sudan, negotiator for the G-77 developing nations, called the figure “insignificant.”

It’s unlikely the U.S. would ever commit its fair share, if its fair share is based on the share of greenhouse gas pollution it has caused.

Doffing Caps: While the West favors a cap on carbon pollution, China favors “carbon intensity,” a calculation of the amount of carbon emitted per unit of gross domestic product. China believes a carbon-intensity standard would not imperil its rapid growth, while forcing it to emit carbon more efficiently. The net result could be very little actual reduction in carbon emissions, and if China’s growth accelerates, emissions could increase.

China has offered to reduce its carbon intensity 40 to 45 percent by 2020. The U.S. offer of a 17 percent cut in carbon emissions is expected to produce about the same drop in carbon intensity: 40 percent. More on carbon intensity from the World Resources Institute.

Goodmorning Starshine: Week one had its stars, including Di-Aping and Ian Fry of the tiny island nation of Tuvalu–but they are likely to be dwarfed by the big names arriving for week two. Foreign ministers arrive this weekend to take the reins of negotiations. At least 110 heads of state are expected to attend during the final three days.

They include Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang and Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

President Obama will attend the conference on its final day, Friday, Dec. 18.

The presence of world leaders adds pressure for a deal, lest they return home in failure, but for the same reason, it adds intensity to each nation’s particular demands.

The Battle of Copenhagen: Climate Justice Action, the group coordinating protest activities here, has vowed to storm the Bella Center and take over the conference on Wednesday, Dec. 16.

Heads of state begin arriving that day, which means enhanced security and even more restricted access to the center. Highways will be closed repeatedly for diplomatic convoys, with security forces from other nations reinforcing Danish police.

If Saturday’s demonstration is any indication, activists are badly outmatched by Danish police and disadvantaged by geography. The Bella Center is four miles from the activist population in Copenhagen’s City Center, and is surrounded by bridges, canals and fences that function, effectively, as battlements and moats.

On Saturday, demonstrators were unable to get closer than a few hundred meters from the Bella Center. They rallied on a closed road, fenced in on three sides, flanked by police, with helicopters overhead and thousands of officers parked nearby as reinforcements.

Arrest numbers on Saturday (968 arrests) were unusually high for the relatively non-violent protest because police are making arrests proactively. Put on a gas mask, go to jail. Pick up a cobblestone, you may never have a chance to hurl it. In many of the arrests we’ve witnessed so far, four or more officers have converged on individual demonstrators.

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